Regulator rejects call for stricter control of laxative sales

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has rejected an eating disorder charity’s appeal for laxatives to be reclassified as pharmacy-only drugs.

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

A call by an eating disorder charity for tougher controls on the sale of laxatives has been rejected by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The charity, Beat, says the use of laxatives as an aid to weight loss seems to be increasing and wants them to be reclassified as pharmacy-only (P) drugs, so that anyone purchasing them would have to talk to a pharmacist. It also wants a minimum purchase age of 16 years to be introduced, a maximum pack size of ten pills, and labels to be displayed on the packs warning: “This is not a weight loss product”.

Beat said its research and the volume of enquiries to its helpline showed the use of laxatives, which are available in supermarkets, was a significant problem.

In a statement the charity said: “Laxatives do not prevent food and calories from being absorbed by the body and are ineffective as a weight loss aid, since they work on the lower bowel after the point at which food is digested.

“Laxatives can also prevent valuable vitamins and minerals from being fully absorbed, and affect the healthy working of the bowel. Continued laxative use can cause bloating, cramping, dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and imbalances, cardiac arrhythmias, organ failure, heart attack, renal problems and ultimately death.”

A spokesperson for the MHRA said that although it recognised that some patients misused laxatives, it had no plans to change the status of general sales list (GSL) products. Not only would reclassification to P impede access to self-medication by the majority of people who use these products safely and in accordance with the instructions in the patient information leaflet (PIL), a determined person would still be able to purchase packs from different high street and online pharmacies.

The MHRA also has no current plans to put limits on pack sizes or introduce a minimum purchase age of 16 years.

However, the spokesman said: “The Patient and Public Engagement Expert Advisory Group (EAG) which reports to the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) has recently reviewed the patient information for non-prescription laxatives and has recommended that stronger warnings should emphasise that taking laxatives regularly for a long time is harmful and they do not aid weight loss.

“We are currently working with companies of stimulant laxative products to introduce these updated warnings.” 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 1 November 2014, Vol 293, No 7834;293(7834):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066902

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